The 2022 cups runneth over.
Tennis has Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup, the ATP Cup that got the season rolling in January and Laver Cup in early fall. Still, none brought together the stars of the WTA and ATP at the same time.
Enter the inaugural edition of United Cup in Australia.
If you saw a reference to Tolkien’s One Ring to rule them all in the title, then you’d be right. But the objective of tennis’ governing bodies isn’t nearly as bloody a conquest as the Dark Lord Sauron would have liked. As the name suggests, United Cup is a summit and spectacle of the highest level at which the elite will share the stage, just as they did during Hopman Cup’s 31-year-run.
The defunct competition (1989 to 2019), which was replaced by the ephemeral ATP Cup in 2020, was an invitation-only exhibition tournament between eight nations, each represented by one member of the WTA and one member of the ATP. A sort of holiday at the start of the season for players who wanted to compete in some serious singles and some mixed doubles that were more entertaining than anything else.
At the last two Hopman Cup events (2018 and 2019), the prodigious duo made up of Belinda Bencic and Roger Federer raised the winner’s trophy for Switzerland.
The round-robin stages of United Cup will take place in the Australian cities of Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, with the semis and final in Sydney.
A total of $15M in prizemoney will be handed out, and each player can collect up to 500 ranking points.
The tournament runs from December 29, 2022, to January 8, 2023, and there are 18 nations in the mix. As the host country, Australia is guaranteed a spot even if it fails to qualify.
Six countries qualify based on the WTA ranking of their no.1 singles player, six qualify based on the ATP ranking of their no.1 singles player and the final six qualify based on the combined ranking of their no.1 WTA and ATP players.
Ponder the possible pairings for a moment, and the top six seeds come as no surprise: Greece (Sakkari, Tsitsipas), Poland (Swiatek, Hurkacz), the US (Pegula, Fritz), Spain (Badosa, Nadal), Italy (Trevisan, Berrettini) and France (Garcia, Rinderknech).
As the last two columns show, countries like the US, Spain, Italy and France will be counting on solid backup. Frances Tiafoe (USA) is among the substitutes, and he’s excited at the idea of competing, especially given his recent success at Laver Cup. “First off, any team event is great for the game,” he said about United Cup. “To see players come out for each other, get out their comfort zone, I think fans will enjoy it. And then, guys and girls playing together is great. I think it will only help their Tour and ours. Everybody wins.”
You’ve probably noticed by now that a familiar flag is missing.
Unfortunately, Canada isn’t among the 18. It’s an individual entry event, and our players have chosen not to attend. The Russian Federation won’t be there either, even though their competitors’ rankings would have placed it in a plum position.
In addition to the combined tournament that will ring in 2023, the ATP plans to expand three Masters 1000 events from eight-day (draw of 56) to 12-day (draw of 96) competitions, like the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open presented by Itaú.
The Mutua Madrid Open (clay), Internazionali BNL d’Italia (clay) and Rolex Shanghai Masters (hard court) are the first to be transformed in 2023. The National Bank Open presented by Rogers and the Western & Southern Open—the back-to-back lead-ins to the US Open—will follow suit in 2025.
BJK Cup: Belinda Bencic leads Switzerland to victory
After falling short just a year ago, Switzerland triumphed at Billie Jean King Cup in Glasgow on November 13.
The title is a fantastic addition to Belinda Bencic’s trophy case. She led the Swiss squad to victory and proved once again that a nation can win a team competition even without a strong contingent of Top 20 players.
Indeed, there’s strength in numbers.
And at tournaments like BJK Cup, Davis Cup and Laver Cup, anything can happen. Still, without a heavy-hitting no.1, it can be challenging to clinch a win.
When she was 18, Bencic took tennis by storm by building up a 29-7 record between June and September 2015. In the process, she took home the National Bank Open title (Toronto) by dismantling Bouchard, Wozniacki, Lisicki, Ivanovic, Williams and Halep. Since then, there have been some ups and downs due to injury, but Belinda remains a solid and consistent player with enough power to dispirit any rival.
The win is the perfect way to cap off her season, and that bodes well for her chances at winning her first major in 2023. Not to mention the fact that she’s gradually forging her own identity as a sports icon in a country dominated by living tennis legends Roger Federer and Martina Hingis.
But back to Billie Jean King Cup, where Czechia and the Russian Federation—habitual finalists and titleholders—were knocked out early.
In the Great Britain vs. Australia semi, one of the two singles matches pitted No.133 Heather Watson (GBR) against No.237 Storm Sanders (AUS): two players who don’t access the qualifying rounds of most WTA 250 and 500 tournaments.
In the final, it was Sanders who managed to push No.35 Jil Teichmann to three sets.
So, as it turns out, there’s some truth to the old cliché that anything is possible.
Another great thing about the newly-crowned champions is that they came together in such a well-balanced team. Bencic was a solid and reliable presence with four wins in as many outings, and Teichmann and No.77 Viktorija Golubic were equally important, each prevailing in their two matches.
Canada’s very promising team had the misfortune of colliding with Switzerland early on and lost in the group stage.
Even so, there’s every reason to dream of an eventual Cup for Canada in the next few years. We’ve got two solid singles players of at least Top 20 calibre, a resilient veteran ranked around the Top 60 and a doubles queen.
That’s the right mix of skills needed to win.
Until then, the next showdown in the BJK Cup quest is slated for April, right here at home, as Canada hosts Belgium in the Qualifiers.
Raise your glass to Novak Djokovic
He isn’t the first—and likely isn’t the last—sports star to get into the wine business.
And while he didn’t harvest the grapes himself, the man with 21 Slams is definitely invested in his new family venture.
Novak Djokovic Winery is located in Sumadija, about 100 kilometres southeast of Serbia’s capital city of Belgrade. Three acres are dedicated to reds and three to whites. Novak’s uncle Goran oversees the operations.
On November 23, at the event to launch Djokovic Chardonnay 2020 and Djokovic Syrah 2020, Goran Djokovic said he hoped the company would reach the same elite status his nephew has achieved on the courts.
“There are many challenges, but we try to achieve the maximum in this business, as in everything,” Goran Djokovic told Vino & Fino via translation. “Even Novak’s racquet is not perfect, but he is still the best in the world.”
Around 8,500 bottles will initially go on sale, and the plan is to double production next year. In case you were wondering, the chardonnay is sold in Serbia for 3,600 dinars (C$42), and the syrah is 4,200 dinars (C$49). The labels are only available locally for now, but there already seems to be significant demand outside the country.
The vineyard isn’t the Djokovics’ first foray into food and wine, since Novak’s parents, Dijana and Srdjan, once ran a pizzeria. Nole opened a vegan restaurant in Monte Carlo in 2016, and there’s even a Belgrade eatery named in his honour: Novak Café & Restaurant.
A lot of athletes have put their name on wine. Like dozens of other personalities from around the globe, they’ve become winemakers themselves or joined forces with growers.
Here’s a list of about twenty sports celebs in the wine business. Curiously, Novak Djokovic is the only tennis player.
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